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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

THEY CAME FROM THE STARS I HATED THEM: THE QUIRK REVIVAL

There's a review of the recent They Came From the Stars I Saw Them album by me, somewhere round here if you scroll down a page or so. It was destined for the ink edition, but got crowded out by other stuff.

As you probably gathered; I didn't much like them. They're what I call Quirk, but not in a good way. I much prefer Chrome Hoof, who I kinda saw at Supersonic '07 a few weeks ago. We had a bit of time to kill between acts we'd earmarked, so we popped down to see them, but couldn't get into the main auditorium as security had stopped letting people in, because it had overflowed with folk that were waiting to see Mogwai (who don't actually do a lot for me, I must confess, but still...)



So we were forced to hang around outside, half-pissed, smoking fags while we waited for Sunn O))) or OM or someone to come on in the other mini-arena...If I craned my neck I'd catch the odd glimpse of a bacofoiled Chrome Hoof head through the top of the crowd. Initially, I didn't like what they were playing much; but I kinda really warmed to it all after a while - people describe them as being proggy (or compare them to Funkadelic or Sun Ra, tho that's purely a appareil-based thing, I think), but I def. thought they were a Quirk Band; that is to say, they had a stop-start/start-stop odd time-signature chassis that was based more on a sort of New Wave temperament than the Big P - there's this weird barely-documented musical interface where Late Prog meets 70s US New Wave. It's all about musicians who can play, but are trying to keep quiet about it, so they camoflauge their chops under zany behaviour, lurid pastel/checkerboard/black n white costumes and quirky Moderne-isms: sort've Post-Bowie theatricality meets angular, staccatto, syncopated, skinny-tie, pogo-on-the-spot, hypercaffeinated rhythms. Think: The Cardiacs. You know exactly what I mean.

There's a brittleness of sound in Quirk that you also get in the last-gasp recordings of Gentle Giant, and - Ye Gods! - didn't even Yes drift towards making a quasi-New Wave/Quirk album when they drafted in Trevor Horn?

Some favourite Quirk acts might be, errrrm: Devo (obviously), Hazel O'Connor, Duffo, Split Enz, Buggles, early XTC...(oh, and Talking Heads, to a degree)...

(Interestingly, on their MySpace, Chrome Hoof name-check Egg, Univers Zero, Goblin and Magma as influences (along with Kate Bush!)...gotta love Magma's "Attahk" album: which is like Jazz-Funk gone evil or Jaco Pastorius on an angel-dust binge...I'm amazed no mid-90s Drum and Bass producers ransacked that album for breaks, or maybe they did!)

Tom Waits drifted into Quirk in the early 80s, tho his take was a wheezy, asthmatic variant poisoned by malfunctioning fairground organs and a bad case of The Blues.

A more recent sighting would be L'il Chris (or his producers, at least).

It strikes me there's been a bit of a Quirk Revival recently, or maybe the on-going Post-Punk Revival is just sounding increasingly desperate.

They Came From the Stars I Saw Them have the whiff of Quirk about them, but possibly filtered through a laptop? Am I alone in finding Arcade Fire fucking tedious? To me they sound, I dunno, artificially ernest. One unwanted symptom of Quirk's overactive adrenal glands is a tendency for the acts (accidentally or otherwise) to sound like they're trying too hard; everything is pumped up (in the Elvis Costello sense of the phrase) and hyperventiliating. If we could try a bit harder, go a bit faster, then this will sound even better still... The ratcheting 180bpm oooomp-pah-pah syncopations and endless rhythmic fills favoured by full-on Quirk have the effect of negating any sort of emotional narrative (if there was any there in the first place!), so the music sounds hyper contrived and hollowed-out. In the right hands this can be used to devestating effect, but the likes of Arcane Fire (corporate faux folksy New Americana meets 2nd album Talking Heads?) merely use it as device to pump up festival crowds full of students and weekend office-worker warriors to a mild state of torpor. They're the live-show equivalent of a Starbucks fair-trade latte: over-priced, bland and mildly-stimulating. After all, we don't want people getting too over-excited on their lunch-breaks.

And people my age who say they like 'em (Paul Morley: "Is this the greatest band ever!?") sound like they're trying too hard too.

Still, the Quirk Revival: hmmmm....

4 Comments:

At 6:31 pm, Blogger simon reynolds said...

you forgot Punishment of Luxury!

and there's this group in America called Human Sexual Response, i think they were from Boston

definitely both cases of proggers/Genesis-fans/late-glam arty-rockers trying as swiftly and dignifiedly as possible to adjust to New Wave aesthetics

Split Enz did a similar thing but not sure they count as Quirk

 
At 6:42 pm, Blogger kek-w said...

Yeah, good ol' Punilux! - LOL!

I've got some faint memory of a photo from one of their gigs with the singer singing to a doll or a doll's head or a skull or something - some kinda post-Pete Gabriel gawn New Wave theatricality thing goin' on there! Also, maybe a vague flashback/afterglow of Glam too.

For some strange reason I feel kinda drawn to all that kinda stuff right now.

 
At 4:12 pm, Blogger St. Anthony said...

Fuck me, Punishment of Luxury ... that takes me back.

Wonder what they're doing now?

 
At 4:47 pm, Blogger kek-w said...

The same songs, probably!

 

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